So, “De-bunking the Gender Stereotypes – For the sake of our children.”  Why am I tackling this topic now? I am writing this now because of this article :: The Christian man of the future (found in the current issue of Children’s Work Magazine).  It doesn’t just talk about children’s work, but looks at what kind of Church men need (which obviously includes our boys) and brings in some thoughts and conclusions that, to put it mildly, I struggle with!  I will, probably inadequately, try and pick up on some of the statements and assertions made in the article and challenge them, both as a man and a children’s worker.

Right at the start of the article, in bold (so this could be a summing up by the editor, or the words of the author – don’t know which), it says,

it’s time to man up and face the reality of a feminised Church

I have heard this phrase used, again and again in recent years.  The church has been feminised, it’s catering to the needs of women not men!  More than that, its the whole of society doing it!  It is interesting that this is being said right now, as – at the same time – there is quite a lot being said about the lack of women at Christian events and conferences.

So, here are my reflections on our challenges and we do have some, but – to get ourselves out of our hole – we need to ignore, avoid and dismiss the gender stereotypes (I know, it looks like I am not ignoring it, but when high profile space is given over in a national magazine to this stuff, I have to say something!)

The Broad Spectrum of Humanity.  Ok, in an article about sexuality on Christianity’s website (The magazine “Christianity” I don’t think they purport to speak for all Christians), I read this – which I like a lot.  It hopefully sets the tone for what follows,

The absence of difference between Adam and Eve is startling. By saying that Eve was made from Adam himself (Genesis 2:21), the creation account emphasises that they were exactly the same. She was an ‘identical’ twin, but female.

Genesis honours Eve very highly. In describing her relationship with Adam, the King James translation calls Eve a ‘help meet for him’ (Genesis 2:18). In modern English, this makes her sound like a domestic servant, but the words ‘meet for him’ translate from the Hebrew word kenegdo: a combined meaning of ‘like’ and ‘beside’ and ‘him’. So she is, in fact, very similar to Adam.

The surprise lies in the word ‘help’ (Hebrew ezer), because the Bible always uses this word for someone who is more powerful; often a warrior or for God himself (Psalm 115:9-11). So, in contrast to what we might assume, Eve is more like Lara Croft than a Stepford wife.

I will get to this quoted bit in a minute, but – I have called this section “The broad spectrum of humanity”, because the article that kicked off this blog talks about the broad spectrum of masculinity . . . and then proceeds to talk about stereotypes.  Acknowledging if you like that it is what people say, but obviously the reality then becomes “most men” this and “most men” that.

Look, I could tell you that I am not a “typical” man – but this would be nonsense.  I am like nobody else, just ask my children!  Oh, and neither are you.  If I listed a bunch of my traits, whether you are a man or a woman you would identify with some and not others.  Someone once said, “comparison is the root to all inferiority” – I think we like lists and traits and stuff like that because it helps us feel like we fit, we are normal, that out there is a “norm” or a “type” or a “trend” or a version of “male” or “female” that fits us.  I don’t believe you can start any sentence with “most men . . . ” or “most women . . . “, you just can’t.

Coming to that passage quoted above – I love the fact that we are of the same “stuff”.  Men are not from a different planet, and neither are women, we are made of the dust of the same earth, the same place, by the same God, who made us (humans, male and female) in His image.  Yes, His image.  I’m not going all “gender” on God either.  We are made in the image of God, the mark of the Divine is on all of us, in all of us, through the Divine all things hold together.  Everything God has created (Colossians 1:17).

I love the word “ezer” too.  I have a help mate in this world, through this life – my wife (and hopefully, she has one too).  Stepford wife she ain’t!  That idea of warrior, has so often been carved out as being a “masculine” thing, rather than an aspect of God’s character which can manifest itself in any of us.

Beyond the creation story we have some great passages that talk to us as humans, not as men or women.  In fact, I read my Bible and discover that it is written to people, not men.  People.  Especially true when gifts and ministries are mentioned – in the passages giving general descriptions and teaching about gifting and serving they are almost predominantly for all of us, highlighted in particular by this,

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus

Galatians 3:28

There is a lack of submission in the Church to Christ and His Lordship IF, when we read this we then retreat back in to our gender and highlight our perceived differences.  The battle of the sexes should not exist in the Church because the battle was won on the cross by Christ.  We should be preferring each other (which I will return to)!  It is not based upon what we have received from others whether we do it or not – it is because we are in Christ and we are now serving Him, not ourselves, our personal agendas OR our gender agendas!

But there is a problem, and it is this :

The Patronised Church.  This is it.  I could just leave it there . . . but this makes me incensed – because in ramping up the stereotypes everyone is patronised and turned in to caricatures, and then these are blamed for the state of things . . . we don’t address the nub of the issue.  So, back to that article in Children’s Ministry Magazine – because it ramps things up with its language,

Let’s stop using a female standard to measure emotional and spiritual health

Woah, ok.  I have never ever in my Christian life come across this idea before.  That in the Church the standard that prevails in relation to emotional and spiritual health is female.  It is what is being said in this article, because it is talking about the absence of men and how the church needs to change.  What is a marker of this “standard”?

the constant emphasis on falling in love with Jesus

I have not heard anything like this for something like 15 years and never in my Christian life of nearly half a century have I been anywhere that this is a constant emphasis!  I don’t know what Bible, church, community or hippy love in commune the author has spent time in, but this just isn’t what I have been told.  I don’t even think in a subliminal way (although, being subliminal I may just not have noticed).

Men don’t get this eros love for Jesus stuff. They don’t fashion a strong faith in the melting pot of Mills and Boon, but in the context of sacrifice, honour, humility, grit and picking up their cross on a daily basis. Testosterone can be harnessed to this end, or we just end up switching the men off, throwing them into the cauldron of redundancy until, confused, they start to display less helpful male traits.

I am gobsmacked that I have apparently been sucked in to some kind of “mills and boon” romance with Jesus!  When did this happen to me?  Is there any hope? This is awful.  This is patronising to men and women!  Stereotyping what a female understanding of discipleship and service looks like (apparently just swooning into the arms of their boyfriend Jesus) and the appalling idea that we, as men display “less helpful male traits” because we are confused (poor, simple stereotypical neanderthals that we are)!

Argh!

On “love for Jesus stuff”.  Jesus says these things to his disciples, knowing that the time He has remaining on the earth is short,

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

(John 13:35)

If you love me.  Keep my commands.

(John 14:15)

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.

(John 14:21)

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

(John 14:23)

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

(John 15:10)

In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome

(1 John 5:3)

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

(2 John 1:6)

No eros stuff is mentioned here, though it is pretty full on!  John in his gospel doesn’t shut up about love from the middle of John 13 to the middle of the chapter 15, then we are back in to it BIG STYLE with this awesome, profound and challenging reminder in Jesus’ prayer, (the bit we say is for all believers, so – that means us),

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

(John 17:20-23)

This is what I don’t get.  The bible is FULL of Love, there is no indication in these passages that Jesus wants to be my boyfriend, neither is the love “manly” in a stereotypical sense . . . it is a love that :

prefers the other.

This IS what Agape is about.  The word literally means “prefers”, so if we are going to talk about agape love lets do it.  It is a sacrificial love in that sense, self is sacrificed, pride is gone, humility reigns (see Philippians 2) . . . it is not a bloke love or a girly love (whatever those are) it is God’s love.  We love because He first loved us.  The love I see manifest each week in church from women (and men) is this :

  • A love that gives and serves the children of a worshipping community by being there and loving the next generation.
  • A love that prefers Christ as so many married women turn up to worship Jesus in a christian community without their partners.
  • A love that prefers others, week in week out, through faithful committed, doing what is needed, back breaking, making it happen often behind the scenes unheralded and unrecognised.

This isn’t some romantic mills and boon kind of love, Jesus is not a boyfriend, for the women I know – Jesus is Lord.  Also, nowhere in scripture are we encouraged to daily pick up our cross and carry it.  We follow Jesus and go and die, like He did.  Maybe some people, men and women, don’t want to do this, because they want to be in control – but let’s not turn one gender’s desire into a noble cause and lampoon the stereotypes of another.  It honours nobody.

Then “confused, they start to display less helpful male traits.”  If I have a manly trait, (I don’t, it’s just a trait – but lets call it this for the sake of argument) it is to blame others for stuff that is my fault.  Right at the heart of this is pride.

I don’t know what the less “helpful” traits are that the article refers to, but frankly, “confused”.  What are we idiots?  If the stuff that Jesus says about love is preached about in Church, what is it that men are confused about?  My grasp of theology is that when I do something that is unhelpful to others or downright rude or disrespectful or competitive (of this I see scant mention in scripture) and aggressive it is called sin.  If real men need straight talking then this is it.  Paul is pretty good at talking about it, and it is something that can impact all of us – not because we get confused, but because we are sinners.  Testosterone is not the reason anyone has a problem with Church (we all have testosterone by the way, and we all need it – keeps us healthy, good for the bones and blood) and our confusion and biology should not be an excuse for traits which lead to sin.

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me

(Romans 7:19-20)

“flesh” can also be read, sinful nature – so lets be clear, this is not saying that we are rubbish, but apart from the Spirit at work in us, bringing forth the goodness of God in our lives – we cannot do good, not because of confusion, not because of a feminised church, not because of our testosterone, but because of our sinful nature.

We all wrestle with this, men and women.  Let’s not blame our behaviour on anyone else.  Lets teach honestly about what a loving Christ centred community should look like.  Lets not patronise each other with stereo or mono types.  We are all fearfully and wonderfully made and Christ is our head, so as we submit to one another out of reverence to Christ can we bury the gender nonsense?

Men and Children’s Ministry – A fatal problem.

It is frustrating to have to wade through all of the above before getting to the crux of the problem.  Men tend not to get involved in children’s ministry.  After nearly 30 years of doing this work I continue to be an “anomaly”.  I work, where I can, to grow balanced teams – not because of some kind of positive discrimination, but because of where we started, “male and female He made them”.  Our boys need to see men and women leading, teaching, pastoring, mentoring, nurturing and modelling the life of Christ.  Our girls need to see men and women leading, teaching, pastoring, mentoring, nurturing and modelling the life of Christ.

Somehow, a significant number of men have abdicated and considered that raising children in the faith we profess is someone else’s business because there are more important things to do, or we can’t be bothered . . . I am a man, and in my attempts to encourage other men to join in over the years . . . . whilst some do, these are the most common reasons I have encountered for why they don’t.

This, from the article, I totally agree with and we need to inspire men and women with this vision of work with both boys and girls,

Harness, don’t extinguish. Go with it, don’t deny it. Shape ’em, don’t destroy ’em.

The issue isn’t the way we do Sunday school, the issue isn’t feminine stuff in church, the issue isn’t whether a group allows rough and tumble or not . . . the issue is leadership.  Leadership of the church as a whole and the ethos created.  So, are the skills and gifts and traits and talents and personality of every child harnessed?  Or are hopes and dreams extinguished because of a pre-occupation with gender?  Do we go with it with both boys and girls?  Do we shape (careful here, because that moves perilously close to another way of saying “nurture”) both girls and boys?

I have two daughters.  My eldest is going to be 10 this year, in eight years she will be an adult.  Both my girls have an incredible, straightforward love for Jesus by the grace of God.  They also believe they can be anything and do anything with their lives – they are in that flow as children of imagination mixed with dreams and hopes . . . being a writer, teaching others about Jesus, acting, comedy, leading . . . but most of all they love being themselves.  I love seeing them being themselves!

I don’t want them to grow up in a church (this is about the way we generalise and talk about “what the church is like” as the article has done) where there is a note or a hint of gender conformity.  I want that stuff done away with before they see it, hear it, I don’t want to see who they are in Christ extinguished, I want them to “go with it” as they realise increasingly as they grow and mature all that God has in store for them, I want His Spirit to shape ’em, I don’t want a stereotype of gender to destroy them.

I want this for all children.  It’s why I will be an anomaly until I am no longer one.  There is no higher calling, I have not been in a testing or practice ground for almost 30 years hoping I will be noticed for something “better”.  There is no advancement beyond this amazing work.  We are not in the business of “holy child minding”.  Ministry to and with children is not women’s work it is the work of the people, to quote an African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  We have seen, over the last 30 years 100s of 1000s of children and young people leave the Church.  We, the whole people of God, need to step up to the plate.  There is no space for competitive aggression (which we can label as a “male thing”) we prefer one another, there is not space for gossip (which we can label as a “female thing”) we prefer one another.  If together we invest in the next generation of boys and girls, side by side as men and women – modelling the life of Christ – wow, I mean, what might happen?!

Do you want to lead in the church?  Please, get involved in children’s ministry.  Do you want to be amazed at the faith and passion of those around you?  Please, get involved in children’s ministry.  Do you want to raise the next generation to be free of gender stereotypes and be all they can be in Christ, together with all God’s people?  Please, get involved in children’s ministry.